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Isabel Allende is a teacher, journalist, and writer from Chile known for using magical realism in her popular novels, The House of the Spirits and City of the Beasts. Her work addresses historical events, the daily life of women, and her own personal experiences. She relocated to the United States and became a U.S. citizen. Isabelle Allende has written 21 books that sold almost 70 million copies in 35 different languages and she began the Isabel Allende Foundation after rate death of her daughter, Paula.[1]

Early Life and Education

Isabel Allende Llona was born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru to parents Tomás Allende and Francisca Llona Barros. Her father, the Chilean President Salvador Allende’s first cousin, served as the Chilean Embassy’s second secretary. She grew up referring to President Allende as tío (uncle) causing some confusion about their exact relation.[2] Isabel Allende considered herself a feminist from the age of five, though the word did not exist in Chile yet.

Tomás Allende disappeared in 1945 and Francisca moved to Santiago, Chile with their three children, including Isabel.[3] Francisca remarried a Chilean diplomat named Ramón Huidobro and the family moved to both Bolivia and Beirut, Lebanon. Isabel Allende attended American and English private schools before returning to Chile in 1958. She continued her education and while in college, she met Miguel Frías, an engineering student from the U.S.[4]

Marriage and Career Beginnings

From a young age, Isabel Allende recognized gender issues and considered herself a feminist without the idea being popularized or even named in Chile.

Isabelle Allende joined the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) ran by the United Nations (UN) in 1959, working first in Santiago, then Brussels, Belgium, and other European cities.[5] In 1962, Isabelle Allende married Frías.[6] She behaved as an obedient wife and mother to two children at home at home, but she pursued professional interests outside the home.[7]

Allende continued her work for the UN’s FAO and began translating the romance novels of Englishwoman Barbara Cartland from English into Spanish.[8][9] She lost the job because she made unapproved changes to the text so the female leads sounded more intelligent. She edited the ending to Cinderella, as well, making the female characters more independent and focused on changing the world.

In 1963, Frías and Allende produced their first child, a daughter named Paula. The family returned to Chile in 1966 and she bore a second child, a son named Nicolás.[10] Allende’s translation work was received positively by some and she gained a following after appearing on television.[11] She joined the feminist magazine Paula’s editorial staff in 1967 and later became the head editor. She wrote and published a few children’s stories and between 1970 and 1974 she worked in production for two Chilean television channels.

Allende once met Pablo Neruda while attempting to snag an interview and he suggested she pursue fiction instead of journalism due to her ample imagination. He also suggested that she combine all her satirical columns into a book, which she did and published as her first book. Her first play, El Embajador, The Ambassador, debuted in 1973 before her forced flight from Chile. [12]

Coup and Novels

In 1973, the U.S. supported a military coup under Augusto Pinochet in Chile that overthrew her tío, President Salvador Allende. She used her famous last name to assist those on the coup’s wanted lists to escape the country. Her own mother and stepfather barely avoided assassination. Allende’s own name appeared on the list and she escaped to Venezuela. She remained there for 13 years.

Isabel Allende lost her country and began writing and conducting romantic affairs in Venezuela. She did not write her most famous novel, The House of the Spirits, until almost age 40. The novel attempted to recreate the country and the family she lost during the military coup. The book caused her to be compared to fellow magical realism author Gabriel García Lorca, but she loathed the comparison.

In 1989, Allende published her third book entitled Eva Luna and left her job as a school teacher for disabled children and divorced her first husband. She remarried to William Gordon, who had three children of his own, all drug addicts. In 1995, Allende finished her masterpiece written by the hospital bedside of her 29-year-old daughter, Paula. Paula suffered from porphyria and fell into a persistent vegetative state in 1991. Allende recorded all of the events transpiring at first to inform Paula when she awoke, and then Allende’s slow realization Paula would never wake up. [13] Paula died on December 6, 1992, in a California hospital. Allende founded The Isabelle Allende Foundation in 1995 to support women and girls’ empowerment across the world in memory of her daughter.[14]

In 1996, Gordon’s middle child disappeared, most likely murdered due to her drug addiction. The couple suffered through their losses and almost divorced, but Gordon kept them together. In 1998, Allende reemerged as an author with a book on aphrodisiacs with cooking recipes called Aphrodite. She finished Daughter of Fortune in 1999 which she began seven years earlier.[15]

Awards and Honors

Isabel Allende and her popular novels have received honors and awards from more than 10 countries around the world.

Isabelle Allende holds honorary doctorates from a multitude of universities, including the University of Chile (1991), Florida Atlantic University (1996), Mills College (2000), the University of Trento in Italy (2007), and Harvard University (2014). In 1994, she was inducted into the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame and the Hans Christian Anderson Bicentenary in Denmark named her an Ambassador in 2004. In 2009, Allende became a Board of Trustees member for the Cervantes Institute in Spain and the Chile-California Council in 2011. The California Hall of Fame also inducted her in 2016.

Isabel Allende’s novels won awards in Germany, France, Belgium, Mexico, Italy, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and her home country of Chile. Germany named her Author of the Year in 1984 and 1986. Portugal honored her with the Mulheres Best Foreign Novel Award in 1987 and Italy granted her the Malaparte Amici di Capri Award and the Donna Cita de Roma Award in 1998. 

Further acknowledgments include the U.S. Feminist Majority Foundation naming her the 1994 Feminist of the Year and winning the French Chevalier dans 1’Ordre des Arts et des Letters Award and the Chilean Gabriela Mistral Inter-American Prize for Culture the same year. She won Chile’s National Literature Prize in 2010 and Spain’s City of Alcalá Arts and Letters Award in 2011. In 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama awarded Isabel Allende the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Allende also received the Gabriela Mistral Foundation Humanitarian Award in 2014 and the 2016 PEN Center Lifetime Achievement Award.[16]



Allende, I. (2017). Biography. The Isabel Allende Foundation.[www.isabelallende.com/en/bio]

Edemariam, A. (2007, April 28). The Undefeated. The Guardian.[2]

Main, M. (2005). Isabel Allende: Award-Winning Latin American Author. United States: Enslow Publishers.


  1. Allende, 2017
  2. Main, 2005
  3. Edemariam, 2007
  4. Main, 2005
  5. Main, 2005
  6. Main, 2005
  7. Edemariam, 2007
  8. Edemariam, 2007
  9. Main, 2005
  10. Main, 2005
  11. Edemariam, 2007
  12. Jaggi, M. (2000, February 5). A View from the Bridge. The Guardian.[1]
  13. Edemariam, 2007
  14. Main, 2005
  15. Edemariam, 2007
  16. Allende, 2017

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